Author Archive: TimN

Laughter is Sacred Space: Memoir of an Anabaptist comedian

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

This is the funniest book about the pain of suicide you’ll ever read. It may also be the most profound. By diving deep into what it means to lose your comedy partner, Ted Swartz squeezes us through windows of surprising grace, lubricated by laughter.

Scene 2 of the book tells the tragic story of how Lee Eshleman “succumbed to a fatal illness known as depression” in 2007, as Ted puts it. Lee was the other half of Ted and Lee, the only full-time professional Mennonite comedy company that I’ve ever known. His death sent Ted into a spiral of anger, guilt, debt, depression and holey underwear as his business collapsed, and he got into debt.

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Young Anabaptist Radical tweets from Goma while M23 rebels take city

Michael J (MJ) Sharp, was an occasional contributor here in the early days and the founder of a precursor to YAR, the Mennonite Progressives list. This week he was tweeting from Goma in the far east of the Democratic Republic of Congo as M23 rebels closed in on the city. It’s a great example of how Twitter can be used for first hand, grassroots reporting in conflict areas with a two way component not found in conventional media. (more…)

Time Traveling Amish Avoid Future; Take Over the World

Amish gas tank, sleds and buggy
Zack Exley, formerly of Revolution in Jesusland, shared this story on Facebook. Its a delightful slice of the Anabaptist apocalyptic imagination:

I had a dream last night that kept repeating all night. Time travel was invented. A conservative Amish-ish sect used it to swap the past for the future with everyone else. They kept going back one year so that they wouldn’t have to experience all the new developments. But this kind of time travel only worked by swapping places with people in the past. So they swapped with people who wanted to skip ahead and get their new iPhones sooner and watch the new Mad Men season earlier. This seemed like a harmless and good deal for everyone involved. But it emerged that each year (a la Groundhog day) the retro sect was using their knowledge of the future to secure enormous power over the world. But it actually turned out well because the sect used their power to prevent wars, famines, etc…

Maybe Mark Tooley was just off by one sect. Zack asks for movie credit from anyone who makes the movie.

Photo by Tim Nafziger

The Femonite: A new gathering space for Anabaptist Feminists

Charletta and the gate #2Over a year ago, I wrote about grieving the loss of women’s voices here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, a problem that has plagued this space since almost the beginning. In the last 7 months, I’ve been delighted to watch Anabaptist women (including a few former YAR contributers) coming together over at The Femonite, a blog started by Hannah Heinzekehr last spring. The blog has brought together a wonderful range of feminist voices, both men and women from across the Mennonite church.

In her introductory post, Why Femonite?, Hannah talks about her identity as a Mennonite "… I have found myself, again and again, drawn back into Mennonite and Anabaptist theology and communities, because of its continual focus on the narrative and life of Jesus, and not just his death."

Hannah’s introduction to the sexism "in earnest" came working in Mennonite institutions. Unfortunately, this fits with the stories I’ve heard from many of my Mennonite female peers working in church institutions. Hannah also names the hope she feels in so many people and communities who are finding Anabaptism for the first time and identifying with the story. This paradox captures the struggle of our generation: how do we embrace the incredible richness and potential of our faith tradition while challenging institutions shot through with oppressive patterns?

Even though this blog is only 7 months old, it’s already opened an important space to wrestle with this question. I’d like to share with you a few of the excellent posts that have been written there over the past month. In some cases I’ve added my own commentary while in others I’ve simply summarized the post. (more…)

The plank of the Forgotten War and the splinter of Muslim rage

Hiding behind the hillCrossposted from As of Yet Untitled.

Two weeks ago, Newsweek published a calculatedly inflammatory cover story in response to the “Innocence of the Muslim” protests in the Middle East. The cover featured a photo of protesters faces contorted in anger with the caption “Muslim Rage”. Newsweek also started an accompanying Twitter hashtag: #Muslimrage. Newsweek was fueling the flames that we already there: U.S. righteous disdain and disgust for the anger of Muslim protesters in response to a Youtube video.

For those of in the United States, I think this is a Matthew 7:5 moment. It’s comforting to settle into our moral high horse as we look at the killings in Libya of the U.S. ambassador. Certainly these deaths are tragic and wrong. But let’s consider what the plank in our own eye might be in this situation.

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The Sikh temple massacre, Islamophobia and Samaritans

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

It’s been less than 24 hours sine the tragic shooting this Sunday in Wisconsin. We grieve for all the victims, their family and their communities. The LA Times is reporting that the gunman had tattoos and biographical details which lead officials to conclude he had a “political agenda”. While we don’t know for sure what that political agenda is, the attack does fit a pattern that in which Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims in attacks by Islamophobic extremists since the 9/11 attacks.

This is another opportunity for Christians in the US to reflect on our response to the ugly Islamophobia that bubbles just beneath the surface and spills out in attacks against all people that appear Middle Eastern.

There would plenty of examples I could cite, but the prominent Christian leader Franklin Graham exemplifies this anti-Muslim trend. From 2002 through 2011, Graham has consistently made comments that stoke fear and paranoia towards Muslims in the US, saying that Islam “preaches violence” (2002) and is “evil” (2009). Last year he offered this:

“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government. Right now we have many of these people that are advising the US military and State Department on how to respond in the Middle East, and it’s like asking a fox, like a farmer asking a fox, “How do I protect my henhouse from foxes?” We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries. And many of these people we’ve brought in, I’m afraid, are under the Muslim Brotherhood.”

(all quotes from Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse, Sheila Musaji)

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The practice of bioregional discipleship: herbalism, murals, bible study, permaculture, and Wolf’ems, oh my!

It’s been a month since Charletta and I arrived in the Los Angeles airport direct from our time with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia. Now that we’ve caught our breath, I wanted to share with you a window into our first two whirlwind weeks here in the Ojai valley working with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. Charletta and I were part of preparing for and hosting the July Bartimaeus Institute entitled “Rooting Faith: Theology and Practices of Bioregional Discipleship.” I focused on documenting the week for a wider audience through photography and video. This is my first experiment in Youtube journalism. Rather than write a lot about the week, I’ll give a basic introduction and then share the videos that I created:

Gathered round the fire

On the first night of the institute we gathered around the fire to sing songs and talk together at dusk (above). Aside from lodging, the event was hosted by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns in their house and their yard, which is entirely given over to vegetables, fruit trees and native plants. Mornings were spent doing Bible study and studying permaculture and afternoons were spent doing hands on learning of permaculture techniques in the garden. Evenings were practical workshops on a variety of subjects. Chris Grataski and Melissa Shank taught us about permaculture and herbalism.

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The GC/MC dance of authority and autonomy: An interview with Lin Garber

Cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled (with different introduction)

Dancing at Living Water

Over the years here on YAR, discussions about the differences between the approach of the (Old) Mennonite Conference (MC) and General Conference (GC) have cropped up now and again. This comment from AlanS from 2010 is probably one of the most insightful. For non-Mennonites or those who have joined in the last 12 years, these reference are mysterious. Nevertheless, for those of of us working for change in the Mennonite church, understanding these differences are critical. To that end, here is my interview with Lin Garber, the convener of Mennoneighbors and a writer and editor. Lin graduated from Goshen College in 1957 and is a member of The Mennonite Congregation of Boston.

Tim: Lin, in a comment on The Mennonite website* you discussed the differering approaches of General Conference (GC) and the “Old” Mennonite Church (MC) to Section III (“Clarification on some issues related to homosexuality and membership”) of Membership Guidelines for the formation of Mennonite Church USA (2001). For those who have never heard of the terms GC and MC, can you briefly explain some of the history?

Lin: Today’s Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) and Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) took their present forms around 2000 in what was termed a “transformation” (as opposed to discarded language like merger and integration). What had been the Mennonite Church, often informally and unofficially referred to as the “Old” Mennonites (MC), stemmed largely from 18th-century immigrants to North America with Swiss and south German origins. It had conferences in both the United States and Canada, a few of which had congregations on both sides of the border, but the bulk of its membership was in the United States.

What had been the General Conference Mennonite Church came out of a movement within the “Old” Mennonites of southeastern Pennsylvania in 1847 that in 1860 organized as the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America. A main stated goal of the group was to unite all Mennonites into one body. It grew slowly over the next dozen years as a few congregations decided to join it, but starting in 1874 its membership exploded with the influx of immigrants from central Europe and especially from southern Russia, mostly the Ukraine. The bulk of these immigrants were of Dutch-Prussian (i.e., north German) descent, and those cultural influences came to dominate. At the time of the “transformation” around 2000, the membership of the GC was roughly balanced between the United States and Canada, with the United States having a slight edge.

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Review of “Pink Smoke over the Vatican”

“Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” tells the story of the struggle for women to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. Through interviews and historical vignettes, it portrays the tragedy of deeply gifted women, called by the spirit, but rejected by their own leaders.

In watching the movie, it was tempting at times to distance myself from the Roman Catholic Church. After all, I’m Anabaptist, and we don’t believe in the church hierarchy or that priests are a necessary bridge to reach God. But I realized that the story of the men in this documentary is my story as a Christian man.

The most moving scene in the film is the ordination of women as priests by a woman bishop. The scene brought unexpected tears to my eyes. My mother experienced deep pain from the Mennonite church where I grew up. Her call to leadership as Sunday school superintendent led to some members leaving the church, and she felt abandoned by male leaders. The story of these women joyfully entering the priesthood is my mother’s story and it is my story.

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Peacemaking and Land in Colombia

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

I’ve been here in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for a week and a half. This week I’ll be visiting Las Pavas, where CPT has been working with 123 families since 2009. They have been struggling to get title to the land where they have lived for decades while A palm oil company has been trying to push them off.

My colleague and I will be a presence with Las Pavas during an official visit by INCODER, the Colombian agency who grants land titles. I’m looking forward to meeting the community personally for the first time since I’ve been hearing about them for so many years.

Here’s a brief summary of the Las Pavas story from an article last year by the Colombia team.

The people of Las Pavas are a sustainable farming community in the southern Bolivar department (province) of Colombia. Through the years, paramilitary violence has forced community members to leave the land but each time they have returned. In 2006, the community was in the process of claiming its land rights under Colombian law when a Daabon consortium bought the land from absentee owner, who had lost his rights to the land due to years of abandonment. On 14 July 2009, the Colombian riot police forcefully removed the community of Las Pavas.

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Moving to California

DSC_0675

On May 23, Charletta and I will be leaving Chicago for a year’s sojourn in California. As I sit down to share this with you, I realize that most of my writing on this blog is opinion or analytical. And I usually only post photos on my blog for The Mennonite. It’s rare that I write about developments in my life. But this one is too big not to mention.

Some of you may remember my post, “In the garden after the rain in California,” from more than a year ago. That trip began a discernment process for Charletta and me on whether to move to live and work with Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. They live in Oak View, Calif., a small town on the edge of Los Padres National Forest and 70 miles west (and a bit north) of Los Angeles. To the right is the view of the mountains in the National Forest from their house.

During our year in California, I will continue in my work with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), web design and photography. Charletta will work with Ched and Elaine as part of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, part time in their office and part time as a counselor with the Peace and Justice Academy in Pasadena. The year will also be a space of discernment about what’s next for the two of us.

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First Anabaptist conference on Occupy movement plus American Spring

This spring will see the first Mennonite conference on the Occupy movement (at least that I’m aware of). The Anabaptist Missional Project will be hosting #Occupy Empire: Anabaptism in God’s Mission at Eastern Mennonite Unversity on April 13-14,. They have an impressive line-up of Anabaptist-minded peace and justice activists and thinkers: Nekeisha Alexis-Baker, Janna Hunter-Bowman, Isaac Villegas and Chris Haw.

The last speaker to be announced was Paulette Moore, one of the leaders of Occupy Harrisonburg. Moore is a documentary film maker, a professor at EMU and one of the writers at the Occupy Harrisonburg blog. She’s been involved with the group since the beginning.

“We definitely started out with the use of the word [Occupy] as an appropriation and a creative theological reinterpretation,” said Brian Gumm, one of the two organizers of the conference. “Before Paulette was on the schedule, we didn’t have explicit references to the movement itself. So by adding Paulette’s voice and the experience of the local movement here, we can make that connection explicity and have a more robust, multi-voiced conversation about Occupy.”

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Protest, performance and pottery: Interview with a Mennonite ceramics artist

On March 10, I visited my uncle Dennis Maust in his studio in northern Lancaster, Pa. It was a beautiful sunny day and the windows of his studio look out across rolling farmland to the hills of the northern border of the county. While he worked on his latest pieces, I asked him some questions about his work as a ceramics artist. But first I had a read through his essay “Living the Patchwork” in the latest issue of The Studio Potter for some background. This interview draws on themes from that piece. Dennis’s next show is in Lancaster for the month of July at Laporte Jewelers on Harrisburg Pike in Lancaster (across from F&M University). It is opening July 6th.

Found somewhere  near father Abrahams birthplace (unexploded)

Found somewhere near Father Abrahams birthplace (unexploded), 2004. Photo by Dennis Maust

Tim: In the article in Studio Potter you talk about the period where you were building “protest-oriented pieces.” Can you say more about this?

Dennis: During the lead up to the latest Iraq war and during the early stages of the war, I was looking a lot at historic Iraqi pots and thinking about the tremendous loss of the antiquities when the U.S. troops first went in and didn’t protect the museums. So I was thinking about both the loss of antiquities and the human loss. And I was doing this series of pieces that were based loosely on historical Middle Easter forms and that particular piece seemed to be a bomb canister form, so I thought about where Abraham was born and the thought that something of this sort may have been found unexploded as a bomb canister. It’s about the loss and the danger and the cost of this war. I wanted to have people look at it as something that could have been found.

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Reviving the wake: being present with those who mourn

CRW_0981On Saturday, Feb. 4, Charletta and I had just left a day-long church meeting when we got word from her father that their pastor, Mick Murray, had been killed in a car accident. Mick was pastor at the Kalona (Iowa) Mennonite Church where Charletta’s family has attended for 16 years.

Charletta and I decided to drive home to Iowa to be with her family that night. Not long after we arrived, Mick’s wife Julie died of her injuries. Charletta and her mother attended a tear-filled church service at Kalona Mennonite. Afterwards, we sat down to eat lunch with Gary and Sylvia. Afterwards we sat together in the living room for awhile. It wasn’t dramatic. It was just a space to be with one another. That evening, we drove back to Chicago.

CRW_0997This past Thursday, Feb. 9, I was sitting in my office at Christian Peacemaker Teams when my colleague walked up and told me that Claire Evans had passed away. Five weeks ago Claire was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two weeks ago those of us in the CPT Chicago office gathered around her bed to say good bye as she moved to Lansing, Mich., to be with her sister and enter Hospice care. Now she is gone.

Claire and I worked on the same floor of our office in CPT Chicago where she coordinated all our delegations. When I came in in the morning, I’d walk past her desk. Claire was a fellow reader. She and I would compare notes on novels we’d read and make recommendations to each other. She also carried with her many stories of CPT’s journey over the last 13 years. She was also part of a small community that deeply shaped my practices around undoing racism through our weekly office meetings over nearly three and a half years. She was never afraid to offer a thoughtful challenge or noticing.

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